Monday, August 27, 2012

eat your head: murray street's signature pig's head dish

"Do you want to eat a pig's head?" I asked my girl friend Karen.

"Sure!" she said. She didn't think I actually meant we were going to eat a pig's head. When she realized I was being literal, she asked, "Is this some kind of wedding tradition?" No, it wasn't. 

I was trying to gather up the least feeble-stomached of my friends to try the signature dishes at one of my favourite restaurant in Ottawa, Murray Street. If you look at their website or their restaurant sign, it's a symbol of a pig. Murray Street serves the whole Noah's Ark of delicious meat dishes, but the one thing I've always wanted to try was the humourously named "How To Get A Head". It is, as you may have guessed, a pig's head.  It's an appetizer dish that requires at least 48 hours' advance notice, and at eighty bucks, is best served for eight to ten people. It's a party centred around a pig!  So I had to find seven to nine friends.

the baby is grabbing his ears in confusion

The result was a random grouping of friends from different social circles, including my beloved Hello Kitty Supper Club, that all had one thing in common: to my question, "Do you want to eat a pig's head?" they had adventurously answered, "Yes."  My friend Katie also added, "Can I bring my baby?"  Yes, we said. So in total, there were ten of us, including baby Johnny.

Rob is trying to explain

Baby Johnny was fascinated by the pig's head. When the server presented it to us, baby Johnny kept staring in astonishment and pointing dramatically with both hands at the dish. Eventually as we started to dig in, he started to look a little put out, probably because he didn't have any teeth yet so he couldn't partake. Baby Johnny's older brother Oscar named the pig George. George was awesome.

Ever since I crashed a lamb roast party in Namibia and ate freshly band-sawed lamb, I wanted to try eating other heads as well. Goat's head (called smilies, because of the the way the goat seems to smile as it cooks on the spit) is a popular Namibian dish, and while I know a group of men who painstakingly constructed their own pig spit, cooked it for eight hours, and then dumped the whole pig on the counter and dug in with steak knives, eating the pork right off the counter, I hadn't been there.  It was a treat to come back to Canada and finally to try this Murray Street dish which is now rapidly becoming an Ottawa rite of passage.

So the flash on my camera reveals that why the restaurant is probably generally dimly lit

First of all, yes, it was delicious. We took our fair share of photos but in all of these photos we were just dying to dig in because it smelled so good.  It was garnished with boiled egg (in case you weren't getting enough of a protein fix), soft beets and green vegetables. The meat was incredibly tender and juicy, and I barely needed to use my knife.  There was, as one might expect a lot of fat on the meat, and as I chewed it, I had to control myself.  Don't enjoy it too much, I told myself. It's not good for you. Don't get addicted to fat.  Eating fat is kind of like, I don't know, having an incredibly attractive teacher or coworker. You don't want to let yourself enjoy it because you know you'll never stop and it'll end up bad news.

And no, there were no brains, which was a shame, but understandably is a lot riskier to serve.

can you spot the snout?

Don takes on the pig's ear

After the pig's head, we went our own seperate ways in terms of the main dish. Rob and I had the charcuterie which allows you to sample an array of fine meats and Quebec cheeses. Karen had the duck wings.  I also nibbled Karen's specialized poutine which was interestingly made with duck confit and spatzle instead of fries.  Others ordered the delicious smores-in-a-glass for dessert.  We all went home several pounds heavier. Thanks, Murray Street; now I have to re-alter my wedding dress.

Friday, August 24, 2012

buckshot lake

Last weekend we drove up to Buckshot Lake to spend some time at the cottage. Every time someone asks where the cottage is, my only answer is "somewhere in the middle of nowhere." The nearest "big" city is Perth, and that's an hour away. The nearest town is Plevna, a village that nobody has ever heard of before. It's the perfect place to have a cottage.

path to nowhere

wild turkeys on the side of the road

the cottage

going canoeing...trying to take photos at the same time


nice little walk along the shoreline

all that playing in the water leaves us tired

this puzzle kept us up half the night

playing croquet

My favourite part of the weekend was a little furry friend who I named Theo. This chipmunk was a big fan of my partner.

It was like a magical scene out of a Disney movie.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

kingston in pictures

sometimes you just feel like leaving town, getting on a train, and exploring a random city. I did that one weekend with my mom, partly as part of a birthday trip for her, and also as what's probably going to be our last trip together before i get married.
our hotel, on the water
city hall. and a boat.
when we arrived in Kingston, there was some sort of festival going on, involving giant boats. they were pretty pretty big. and fancy. it was like Cruise Night in Kanata at the Hazeldean Mall, except with giant boats, on dry land, pulled by trucks that were also so huge people sat under them to eat lunch while they hid from the rain
a lovely picnic under the truck
whoa check it out - the Rideau Canal
we had dinner at Chez Piggy's, one of those places in Kingston that everyone says you gotta try. The weather was looking promising when we sat down on the patio, but soon enough it started to rain again. The waitress ran around bussing tables while wearing a handkerchief on her head like a babushka.
in the evening, mom and i hung out at the hotel's hot tub and then got facials.
the next morning, we went for breakfast at Pan Chancho's, which was another place that everyone tells us you gotta go. they are actually also owned by the people that run Chez Piggy, so maybe everyone i talk to gets a special commission for recommendations.
breakfast burritos! my favourite!

after breakfast, we took a walk around the harbourfront. the big boats were still there. we asked a local what event was going on.

"poker run," he said.

"ah," we nodded. wait. poker didn't explain the boats at all.
fancy boats at the harbour
fancy mac's downtown

we took the ferry over to Wolfe Island, which was free. free! Ottawa take note. free ferries are awesome!
mom, waiting for the ferry
the ferry ride gave us a beautiful view of the water and all the people out in boats doing apparently poker related things, all enjoying the summer day.
spot the poker reference. because we couldn't.
a school of kayaks! or whatever you'd call a group of them.
i named this island Sad Tree Island

finally we arrived at Wolfe Island, which was full of all sorts of quaint shops.

okay, maybe "full of" is a bit of an exaggeration. it's a quiet sleepy place, like islands often are. we went to the tourist office to find out what there was to do.

"do you have a car?" they asked.
"no," we said.
"hmmm. there isn't much to do here," the tourist office said. I appreciated their honesty.
but wait, where are these people going to?
after some wandering around though, we discovered one thing that i'm not sure how the tourist office forgot to mention. the Wolfe Island Music Festival. hell, yeah! As if I didn't get enough summer festivals from the previous weekend, mom and i snuck into the festival to see what was going on.

it was mostly the bands sound checking. oh well. mom and i got back on to the ferry to enjoy the boat ride back.

there was an ambulance on the ferry, lights flashing with a patient inside, but we were on island time. you can't hurry a ferry.
there were also horses on the ferry, and small children driving them.
once we were back on the mainland, we did the next most touristy thing: Fort Henry!
the fort goat. his name is Henry.

although massive and impressive and simulataneously beautiful, our tour was a reminder that army life is not for me. at least, not early 20th century army life under British rule. i saw what those toilets looked like.

there were, however, small children running around with rifles, some of the kids so small their rifles were bigger than them. they seemed to want to join the army. i found this sight to be somehow both adorable and mildly disturbing.
after the Fort, mom and i did pizza at Woodenheads.
we ended our stay by hanging out at the harbourfront, watching black swans compete with Canadian geese for the best parts of the pier, paramedics drink beers on the pacing boat, wedding guests file in for dinner at Kyle and Kylie's reception (I wanted to crash it). It was a lovely stay.